1. Smicksburg, Pennsylvania, USA
The Amish way of life has changed relatively little over the last century. In the town of Smicksburg, Pennsylvania, is an Old Order Amish community of about 800 members. Shops sell speciality Amish food and crafts, there is limited electricity, horse and buggies are the main mode of transport and farmers work out in the nearby fields with horse-drawn ploughs.
2. Xinye Village, China
Residents of Xinye, an historic remote village founded in the thirteenth century in the mountains of western Zhejiang, have taken such pains to protect their ancient buildings from damage that the village is now highly respected for its fascinating ancient architecture. During Shangsi Festival, celebrated by only a few communities today, villagers pay tribute to their ancestors in ceremonial worship.
3. Den Gamble By, Århus, Denmark
Founded in 1909, “The Old Town” in Århus was the first open-air museum of its kind, focusing on the history and culture of past urban societies. With 75 replicas of historical houses from all over Denmark, you can wander through a nineteenth-century market town, explore a stately home from the 1700s, or even have a look round a 1970s gynaecologist’s clinic.
4. Tombstone, Arizona, USA
Once a wild-west frontier town, Tombstone was where the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place in 1881. The Historic District used to be one of the best-preserved frontier towns, but in recent years standards have dropped somewhat. Still, you’re sure to get a strong sense of what this place was like when cowboys roamed the streets looking for trouble.
5. Etar Architectural-Ethnographic Complex, Bulgaria
Enter the world of the Revival, a time of positive economic and political development in Bulgaria under Ottoman rule, from the eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries. This open-air museum in Gabrovo takes you through workshops and homes of craftsmen of the era, complete with a watermill from 1780, a traditional sweet shop and several restaurants serving time-honoured Bulgarian food.
6. Kizhi, Russia
The entire island of Kizhi, in Russia’s vast Lake Onega, is a historical relic. The intricately designed ancient wooden churches include Russia’s oldest religious building, the fourteenth-century Church of the Resurrection of Lazarus. Of the other antique wooden homes and buildings, some are native and others were shipped here in the 1950s to preserve the region’s unique, elaborate architecture.
7. Shikoku Mura, Japan
Step into Japan’s rural past in Sikoku Mura, an open-air museum of 33 traditional houses from the Edo to the Taishō periods. There’s also storehouses, a kabuki (classical Japanese dance-drama) stage dating back 250 years, sheds where paper used to be made out of mulberry bark and a suspension bridge made of vines. It’s a fascinating glimpse into a life once lived.
8. Zuiderzeemuseum, Enkhuizen, The Netherlands
In 1932, Zuiderzee in the Netherlands was cut off from the North Sea, washing away its role as an important fishing and trading port. Fears that the region’s maritime cultural heritage would be lost led to the creation of an entire village reflecting a past way of life, and a museum of seventeenth-century ships housed in old Dutch East India Trading Company warehouses.
9. Sighisoara, Transylvania, Romania
Birthplace of Vlad Tepes, otherwise known as Dracula, Sighisoara is one of the oldest and best-preserved inhabited citadels in Europe. High up on a hill overlooking the Tarnave Mare valley in Transylvania, ancient houses lead up to the fourteenth-century clocktower that dominates the ominous skyline, dotted with battlements and needle spires.
10. Herm, Channel Islands, UK
The tiny island of Herm is one of the smallest of the Channel Islands open for visitors – just two square kilometres of unspoilt land. There are no cars or bicycles allowed on the island, and you can only get around on foot, although quad bikes and tractors are used to transport staff and luggage for guests staying on the island.
11. Hahoe Folk Village, South Korea
Folk villages in South Korea are a popular way of maintaining strong links with the nation’s pastoral traditions. Hanoe Folk Village is not just a show-town; this a fully-functioning sixteenth-century (Joseon-era) style community with preserved original buildings – tiled-roofed for the aristocracy, thatched and mud-walled for the servant class – all charmingly arranged in the shape of a lotus flower.
12. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
The Peasants’ War of 1525 and the Thirty Years War a century later left the once-prosperous town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Bavaria, poverty-stricken. Development came to a standstill, and the buildings were left untouched. Detailed reconstruction after the allied bombings of World War II means that this enchanting town still looks almost exactly like it did four hundred years ago.
13. Tatariv, Ukraine
It’s not uncommon to see horse-drawn carts in the small towns and villages in rural Ukraine, or to find farmers using horse-drawn ploughs and hand-scythes in the fields. Tatariv, in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, is one of the living relics of old-Ukraine, where carts used for transport in summer are replaced by sleighs in bitter winters.
14. Inle Lake, Myanmar (Burma)
The Intha people of Inle Lake in central Myanmar live in villages made up of stilt bamboo-and-wood houses. Communities here speak an ancient dialect of Burmese and continue to use the lake for transport and trade as they have done for generations, growing vegetables on floating gardens and catching fish from boats propelled by their distinctive leg-rowing style.
15. Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, USA
The largest US outdoor living-history museum has hundreds of restored and reconstructed buildings from 1699 to 1780, all relating to American Revolutionary War history. “Interpreters” dress and act from the era, explaining features of life here in the past to visitors. The added bonus is that you can walk through Colonial Williamsburg for free, any time of day.
16. Black Country Living Museum, England
Delve into the railway yards, steel workshops, coal pits, shops and homes of what was once one of Britain’s most heavily industrialised areas – Black Country, West Midlands. This open-air museum recreates life in nineteenth and early twentieth century industrialised Britain with delightful accuracy – and you can even save your legs with a journey on an old-fashioned trolleybus.
17. Blists Hill, Telford, England
Do some high street shopping with a difference at Blists Hill, a living, working Victorian-era town in the West Midlands of England. Eat traditionally cooked fish ‘n’ chips, try some old-fashioned sweets (perhaps before you take a peek in the frightening dentists’ surgery), and even sniff the smells of the past as you go.
© jeff gynane/Shutterstock
18. The Funen Village, Odense, Denmark
The restored half-timbered houses, mills, local school and quaint little village street of The Funen Village set a rural Danish scene as it looked in the days of Hans Christian-Andersen, born and raised in Odense in the early nineteenth century. Get up close and personal with old-Danish livestock breeds, and taste local varieties of fruit from back in Andersen’s day.